Like you, I don’t know what to make of the recent Washington Post investigative article on Rabbi Menachem Youlus. What is one to make of someone who you’ve met from time to time over the years and have surmised is an individual of the highest ethical caliber and standards – and then read an article claiming he possibly is not?
The article calls into question some of the Baltimore scribe’s longtime claims about the provenance of many of his Torah scrolls, which he says he largely unearthed or discovered throughout Central and Eastern Europe—lost, discarded holy remnants of that highly-emotional touchstone we call the Holocaust.
Who would play fast and loose with anything connected to something as sacrosanct as the Shoah? Who would give the chazzers—the deniers—a scintilla of a chance to extend their feast, their orgy of lies?
And yet in our own community and the world at large, we know that even some Holocaust survivors themselves have played fast and loose with the facts about what happened during humanity’s cruelest season. If these souls can do such a thing (intentionally or unintentionally), how can we be shocked if someone who didn’t go through that horrific time possibly exploits it for their own gain and glory?
I have a photo at home of my daughter from a couple of years ago with Rabbi Youlus. He came to her Hebrew school class, where each student received the opportunity to have their picture taken with the rabbi, filling in a letter in a Torah scroll. She was excited about the opportunity, and who can blame her? It was a chance to physically touch the Torah, feel the parchment, and hope that some of its holiness, wisdom and ancient wonder would rub off. And to meet a heroic figure – “the Indiana Jones of Torah scribes” – to boot.
What do I tell my daughter now? That there are questions about this bright, articulate, very likable man, raised by some of the very people who believed in him the most and spent their hard-earned dollars to spread the love of Torah in memory of their loved ones? How do I explain these serious allegations, ones that could horribly damage the reputation of someone that many of us previously held up as a highly moral individual on a very noble mission?
Of course, the jury is still out on Rabbi Youlus. He certainly deserves his day in court. Like you, I pray that he is innocent of the accusations cast in his direction. Time will tell. But I can tell you that I will never again be able to listen to anyone’s claims of having Holocaust-related materials, artifacts or documents with the same lack of inquisitiveness and innocence.
And maybe like my friend Rubin Sztajer, a local Holocaust survivor, has told me in the past, that’s not a bad thing.